When asked about the potential of his work on the so-called “Wiki Weapon” in a recent interview, Defense Distributed co-founder Cody Wilson said, “This can go as out of control as you can imagine.” It is impossible to predict the future success of Defense Distributed, but it may not go completely “out of control” if one New York congressman can help it.
Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., held a press conference over the weekend urging his colleagues to renew the Undetectable Firearms Acts, a key piece of legislation set to expire in 2013 that he believes is crucial to preventing the proliferation of 3D-printed guns.
When the Undetectable Firearms Act became law in 1988, Israel said in a statement, “this kind of technology was just a fantasy.”
“It is just a matter of time before these three-dimensional printers will be able to replicate an entire gun,” Israel said at a news conference at the Long Island MacArthur Airport, according to MeetThe112th. “And that firearm will be able to be brought through this security line, through the metal detector, and because there will be no metal to be detected, firearms will be brought on planes without anyone’s knowledge.”
The Undetectable Firearms Act expired a decade after its passage, but was revived in 2003. It is now set to expire once again in December 2013.
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"Congress passed a law banning plastic guns for two decades, when they were just a movie fantasy," Israel told Mashable. "With the advent of 3D printers these guns are suddenly a real possibility, but the law Congress passed is set to expire next year."
"We should act now to give law enforcement authorities the power to stop the development of these weapons before they are as easy to come by as a Google search," he added.
The renewal of this ban does not apply specifically to projects like the Wiki Weapon or the various makers, tinkerers, and gun enthusiasts like Michael Guslick, who recorded his own efforts to craft the lower receiver of an AR-15 assault rifle with a 3D printer on his blog Have Blue. The question therefore remains about how, exactly, these new forms of DIY manufacturing can be regulated or centralized, if at all.
“The ban does not affect Defense Distributed,” Wilson of Defense Distributed wrote in an email when asked about Israel’s comments. “The statute excepts licensed manufacturers and their agents.”
Of course, both Wilson and Guslick have admitted that the technology in this case may be outpaced by the ideology behind it. All forms 3D printing is in a primordial stage of its development, the printing of firearms being no exception. But the new concern that alarmed Israel enough to hold an impromptu press conference seems to be the fact that Defense Distributed was recently able to start conducting tests on its Wiki Weapon prototype for a “3D-printed reinforced AR-15 lower receiver,” the results of which it posted to YouTube earlier this month.
As was generally expected, the AR-15 only stood up for six shots before it failed -- Wilson later told Wired he thought the gun would survive up to 20 shots.
While Israel focused on existing legislation in his statement, the press conference raised the possibility of future laws targeting 3D printed weapons specifically.
Suffolk County, N.Y., Police Chief of Department James Burke added at Israel's press conference that 3D printers could lead to a new wave of firearms being produced “in our children’s bedrooms, in basements and in dorm rooms.”
“With the prices of these printers under $1,000, I think anyone can imagine the rise of an amateur gun maker in our community,” Burke said.
Wilson, for his part, has been careful not to step outside of any current legal boundaries with Defense Distributed, filing with the IRS to become a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization and submitting an application for a federal firearms license from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after the “Wiki Weapon” first attracted scrutiny. Both of these applications are still pending, Wilson said.
“Consider that you may be guilty of taking Mr. Israel seriously,” Wilson added in another email. “Note that he chose a theatrical place to make a theatrical statement.”
Of course, regulating the distribution of and access to information as it is disseminated across the Internet is a daunting task. And the current Undetectable Firearms Act applies more to the ownership and use of certain types of guns than their actual production, after all. As an analogy, once material like pornography becomes available online, controlling access to it becomes all but impossible despite whatever moral panic its presence might inspire.
“I thought you already understood this is our animating goal,” Wilson said.